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2 dead, at least 10 critically injured in San Francisco plane crash

Updated: July 7, 2013 4:35PM



SAN FRANCISCO — An Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul, South Korea, crashed Saturday morning while landing at San Francisco International Airport, killing at least two people, injuring dozens of others and forcing passengers to jump down the emergency inflatable slides to safety as flames tore through the plane.

At least 10 people from among the 307 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 777 jetliner were critically injured.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Saturday evening that about 60 people were unaccounted for, but officials later said it appeared that only one person remained unaccounted for.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Flight 214 crashed while landing at 11:36 a.m. PDT. A video clip posted to YouTube showed smoke coming from a jet on the tarmac. Passengers could be seen jumping down the emergency slides.

Television footage showed the top of the fuselage was burned away, and the entire tail was gone. One engine appeared to have broken away. Pieces of the tail were strewn about the runway. Gaping holes could be seen in the roof of the plane’s body, blackened by fire.

Fire officials said the 307 people aboard the plane included 291 passengers.

President Barack Obama offered his prayers to the families of those affected by the crash.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in an e-mail that she was on another flight from Korea landing at San Francisco at the time.

“I was on another flight from Korea at the exact same time,” Sandberg said. “We are OK. My friend on that flight is OK, too.”

The wreckage was sprayed with white fire retardant. Parts of the plane were scattered over a broad area, though the bulk of the plane remained in one piece.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA in Washington, said Asiana Flight 214 from Seoul was attempting to land at San Francisco International Airport when it crashed.

She said it appeared the plane crashed after touching down for a landing, though the sequence of events wasn’t clear.

It wasn’t clear what happened to the plane to cause the crash, but some eyewitnesses said the aircraft seemed to lose control and that the tail may have hit the ground.

The FBI said there was no indication of terrorism.

Some eyewitnesses described the aircraft doing a cartwheel. Others said it appeared to sway back and forth, kicking up dust. Many said the tail fell off.

Stephanie Turner saw the plane going down and the rescue slides deploy but returned to her hotel room before seeing any passengers get off the jet, she told ABC News. Turner said when she first saw the flight she noticed right away that the angle of its approach seemed strange.

“It didn’t manage to straighten out before hitting the runway,” she said. “So the tail of the plane hit the runway, and it cartwheeled and spun and the tail broke off ... I mean we were sure that we had just seen a lot of people die. It was awful.

“And it looked like the plane had completely broken apart,” she said. “There were flames and smoke just billowing.”

Kate Belding was out jogging just before 11:30 a.m. on a path the water from the airport when she noticed the plane approaching the runway in a way that “just didn’t look like it was coming in quite right.”

“Then, all of a sudden, I saw what looked like a cloud of dirt puffing up and then there was a big bang and it kind of looked like the plane maybe bounced (as it neared the ground),” she said. “I couldn’t really tell what happened, but you saw the wings going up and [in] a weird angle.”

“Not like it was cartwheeling,” she said, but rather as though the wings were almost swaying from side to side.

A passenger aboard the plane, David Eun, tweeted after the crash: “Fire and rescue people all over the place. They’re evacuating the injured. Haven’t felt this way since 9/11.”

Later, Eun tweeted: “I’m fine. Most people are totally calm and trying to help. ... the majority of passengers seem OK.”

San Francisco General Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan says the adult patients range in age from 20 to their 40s. It was not immediately clear the ages of the children.

Boeing, which has its headquarters in Chicago, issued this statement: “Boeing extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who perished in the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 accident in San Francisco, as well as its wishes for the recovery of those injured. Boeing will join the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board at their request to provide technical assistance to their investigation.”

Aviation safety experts said the crash is only the second major accident for the twin-engine, wide-bodied jet in the 18 years the model has been in service Tom Haueter, former head of aviation accident investigations for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the 777 has a “fantastic record.”

The two accidents share a striking similarity: Both occurred just about the time the planes were touching down to landing.

The previous accident occurred in 2008 at London’s Heathrow Airport. A British Airways 777 landed hard about 1,000 feet short of the runway and then slid onto the runway. There were injuries but no fatalities. An investigation revealed ice pellets in the fuel.

A call to the airline seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

On Twitter, the airline posted this: “Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers and flight crew on the flight.”

The National Transportation Safety Board was dispatching a team of crash investigators to the site. NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said board Chairman Deborah Hersman would head the team.

A graphic depicting the precise glide slope the jet followed to the runway was posted on the live flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. It suggested the plane had a steeper approach angle than the same flight a day earlier.

A video clip posted to YouTube showed smoke coming from a silver-colored jet on the tarmac. Passengers could be seen jumping down the inflatable emergency slides. Images showed the the body of the plane largely intact but with severe fire damage.

The tail of the plane was separated from the aircraft. Weather at the time was clear.

Asiana is a South Korean airline, second in size to national carrier Korean Air. It has recently tried to expand its presence in the United States and joined the Star Alliance, which is anchored in the U.S. by United Airlines.

The 777-200 is a long-range plane from Boeing. The twin-engine aircraft is one of the world’s most popular long-distance planes, often used for flights of 12 hours or more, from one continent to another. The airline’s website says its 777s can carry between 246 to 300 passengers.

The flight was 10 hours and 23 minutes, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service. The aircraft is configured to seat 295 passengers, it said.

The Boeing 777 is a smaller, wide-body jet that can travel long distances without refueling and is typically used for long flights over water.

The most notable accident involving a 777 occurred on Jan. 17, 2008 at Heathrow Airport in London. British Airways Flight 28 landed hard about 1,000 feet short of the runway and slid onto the start of the runway. The impact broke the 777-200’s landing gear. There were 47 injuries, but no fatalities.

An investigation revealed ice pellets that had formed in the fuel were clogging the fuel-oil heat exchanger, blocking fuel from reaching the plane’s engines. The Rolls-Royce Trent 800 series engines that were used on the plane were then redesigned.

Bill Waldock, an expert on aviation accident investigation, said he was reminded of the Heathrow accident as he watched video of Saturday’s crash. “Of course, there is no indication directly that’s what happened here,” he said. “That’s what the investigation is going to have to find out.”

The Asiana 777 “was right at the landing phase, and for whatever reason the landing went wrong,” said Waldock, director of the Embry-Riddle University accident investigation laboratory in Prescott, Ariz. “For whatever reason, they appeared to go low on approach and then the airplane pitched up suddenly to an extreme attitude, which could have been the pilots trying to keep it out of the ground.”

The crash was the first of a major commercial jet in the United States since a November 2001 crash in New York.

The last fatal accident involving a commercial flight in the United States was Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50 people, on Feb. 12, 2009.

There has not been an accident involving a major domestic carrier since an American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic crashed after takeoff in Queens, N.Y., in November 2001, killing all 260 people on board.

In another crash of a Boeing 777-200ER, British Airways flight 38 crashed just short of the runway at London’s Heathrow on Jan. 17, 2008. That crash had no fatalities, but dozens were injured. That crash was blamed on ice crystals clogging the fuel line on a long flight from Beijing.

Asiana Airlines is based in Seoul. Its website says its Boeing 777 can carry from 246 to 300 passengers. Asiana flies 12 B777-200ER twin-engine jets produced by Boeing. The long-haul jet can fly 14 hours non-stop.

The $875.5 billion airline, established in 1988, operates 79 aircraft and flies 91 international routes to 71 cities in 23 countries.

A man who answered the phone at the airlines’ Los Angeles office said the company had no comment. “We’re trying to find out what happened,” he said. The man declined to give his name.

The FAA investigated two accidents involving Asiana within weeks of one another in November 1998.

In the first incident, on Nov. 11, 1998, an Asiana plane with 220 passengers and 18 crew aboard skidded into a parked plane after landing at Anchorage International Airport in Alaska. Federal investigators blamed the pilot for excessive taxi speed and inadequate maneuvering to avoid the parked plane.

On Nov. 30, 1998, an Asiana cargo plane struck and toppled a crane in the safety zone next to the taxiway after it landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The FAA faulted the co-pilot for misjudging the wing’s clearance.

Contributing: AP



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